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Beveridge Webster

Photograph of Beveridge Webster, pianist

Beveridge Webster was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 13, 1908. He commenced piano studies at the age of five with his father, the founder and director of the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Music (est. 1893). Webster's brother Ferguson and his sister Elizabeth also received musical training from their father. In 1921 Beveridge Webster, Sr. sold the conservatory and the whole family moved to Paris. There Beveridge Jr., as well as Ferguson and Elizabeth, continued their musical education at the Paris Conservatory with the renowned pedagogue, Isidor Philipp. Webster went on to take the Premier Prix in piano, the first and only American to win that coveted Conservatory award. He also studied with Nadia Boulanger and Robert Casadesus at the American School at Fontainebleau, where he won first prize in 1922. He began concertizing extensively in Paris and throughout Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. During the early 1930s, he also spent several years studying with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. 

During the Paris years, Webster's empathy for French impressionism was cultivated by his friendships with Maurice Ravel and Jacques Durand, Debussy's publisher and confidante. Webster was a close associate of Ravel and appeared frequently on the same concerts (they often turned pages for one another in chamber music recitals). In 1924, when Webster was only sixteen, he gave the world premiere of Ravel's Tzigane (with violinist Samuel Dushkin) in Paris. Webster was a frequent performer at the musical soirees given by the Durands, as well as those given by the opera diva Nellie Melba. It was in Paris that Webster began to teach; among his students were Hephzibah and Yaltah Menuhin. Webster also was a close associate of Igor Stravinsky, appearing with him on several occasions when Stravinsky conducted his own works.

On November 11, 1934 Webster made his U.S. debut with the New York Philharmonic, playing the MacDowell Second Piano Concerto. His recital debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City was a mere three weeks later, on November 30. He subsequently appeared with most of the major American orchestras and was greatly in demand as a solo recitalist and chamber music player (with quartets including the Kolisch, Curtis, Juilliard, Pro Arte, Fine Arts, Musical Art, Gordon, Lenox, Netherlands, Berkshire, Concord, Gramercy, Galimir, Capet, and Cremona) throughout North America. His repertory is diverse and wide-ranging, extending from Bach and Beethoven to Twentieth-century avant-garde. He is best known, however, as a champion of modern American composers and for his interpretations of Debussy and Ravel. He has given premieres (as well as made first recordings) of the works of numerous American contemporaries such as Elliott Carter, Roger Sessions, William Schuman, Louise Talma, Robert Helps and David Diamond.

In addition to American music, Webster has also made first-time recordings of works of other Twentieth-century composers such as Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. (The labels he has recorded on are MGM, Dover, Columbia, Desto, and Heliodor.) For the fiftieth anniversary of Debussy's death (1968) Webster performed Debussy's complete piano works in a three-recital series in a number of cities, including New York, Chicago. Webster's recordings of the complete Debussy piano works are still considered to be among the finest interpretations.

Webster's performing and teaching careers continued simultaneously. From 1940 to 1946, he taught at the New England Conservatory. In 1946, he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School where he remained until his retirement in October 1990. From 1961 to 1970 he was a performing artist and faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival and School. He was also professor-in-residence at Herbert Lehman College in 1973, and has been a visiting professor at leading colleges, universities, and conservatories throughout the country. A list (not complete) of his students can be found in the Student Files. Some of his students include Paul Jacobs, Michel Block, and three performer/teachers now in the Washington area, Thomas Schumacher (University of Maryland), Thomas Mastroianni (Catholic University) and Raymond Jackson (Howard University).

Webster has served on juries for numerous piano competitions: the Kennedy-Rockefeller Foundations' International Piano Competition, 1978 (jury chairman); University of Maryland Piano Competition, 1980; first Tokyo International Piano Competition, 1980; Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition, Cleveland, 1981; the Warsaw, Mitropoulos, Van Cliburn, Naumburg, Leeds, Munich, and Bach international piano competitions, as well as the Paris Conservatory and the WQXR Young Artists Competitions. He has also been a member of various composition juries, such as the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM), the League of Composers, American Broadcast Alliance, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Webster has received various awards and honorary degrees, among them an award for outstanding services to American music from the National Association of American Composers and Conductors, 1959; membership in the National Society of Literature and Arts, 1975; and honorary doctorates from the University of New Hampshire, 1962, and Baldwin Wallace College, 1969.

In 1940, Webster married Frances Brown, a singer, pianist and cellist. Frances holds degrees in music from Oberlin and Radcliffe and has studied with Nadia Boulanger. She has given numerous song recitals, many with Webster as accompanist. For nine years, she was principal cellist with the Westchester (New York) Symphony. The Webster children, Michael and Wendy, first commenced piano studies with their mother. Michael is a clarinetist, conductor, composer, and arranger. He has been the principal clarinetist with the Rochester Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, as well as soloist with various orchestras and performer with numerous chamber music groups and festivals. After musical studies at Oberlin, Aspen, and the Longy School of Music (eurhythmics) and graduate work in early childhood education at Tufts University, Wendy founded the Joy of Music Program (in 1986) in Worcester, Massachusetts. She continues on as teacher/director of this unique community music school for children aged two to twelve.